PEORIA — Teacher Robin Tandeski asked for volunteers. Ibrahim Fokaha, a second-grader at Northmoor Primary School, hit the yellow “raised hand” icon on his home computer.
“OK, Ibrahim, you go first,” Tandeski said. “Unmute, and in a big voice, read your sentence.”
“July is a hot month,” the boy read aloud.
“All right! Great job!” Tandeski said with an abundance of second-grade teacher exuberance. “You guys are getting this!”
The 2020-2021 school year started in Peoria Public Schools on Monday. Teachers reported to their classrooms early in the morning. Students reported to their living rooms, bedrooms and kitchen tables and turned on their computers.
At Northmoor and at schools across the district, no buses lined up to discharge students, or to pick them up. No child posed for the obligatory first day of school photograph at the school’s door. The hallways did not hold the scent of the day’s hot lunch.
A first day of school unlike any other:
“This is not normal. This is not the best for anybody,” Tandeski said after maneuvering her 16 students through their first remotely interactive 5 1/2 hour school day. “But parents, teachers, students and administration are all giving this a great shot. We have to try. There is no other option.”
There was another option as recently as two weeks ago. All summer, the district prepared to open the school year with a blended model of in-school and remote learning. When local numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases started increasing, the school board voted to retreat to its backup plan — all remote learning. Then the administration pushed back the start date from Aug. 19 to Aug. 24.
“One day down, 179 to go,” said Katie Hobin, a special education teacher at Northmoor who spent part of her day assisting Tandeski.
The last students had logged off for the day.
“I’m exhausted,” said Tandeski. “I think we’ve got a lot of kinks to work out.”
“No amount of training can prepare you for putting the plan in action in front of the students” Hobin said.
It was a busy day also for Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat.
“I visited all of our buildings today like I do each year for the first day of school, and I can attest that it was a fast day for everyone. We do miss seeing the kids inside the buildings, but I am so proud of our principals, teachers and other staff for all of their hard work and dedication,” Kherat said.
Tandeski and Hobin sat in front of a computer in a corner of the empty classroom. Nine students at a time were displayed, gallery-style, on the screen. The teachers could speak to the entire class at once, or to one student at a time. The second-graders twice managed to log off — once for art, once for phys ed. — and log back into Tandeski’s virtual classroom.
“One student had issues with a computer and came into the school to get that straightened out,” Tandeski said. “After lunch we had 100% engagement.”
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at [email protected] Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.